Copyright on a book published in 1929

I am interested in using a photograph from a book published in 1929 (My Tropical Air Castle, by Frank M. Chapman, D. Appleton and Co., NY and London). I’d like to know the easiest way to determine whether this may be in the public domain, and if not, how to determine who presently holds the copyright.

I have checked out the website of the U.S. copyright office, which has this to say:

I want to check to see if I am reading this right. This indicates to me that, under the original law, the book could have been under copyright until 1985 (an original term of 28 years, plus a renewal term of 28 years). Would that renewal term have been automatically extended to 47 years in 1978, putting the expiration in 2004? And would it have automatically have been extended another 20 years in 1998, thus putting the expiration in 2024?

As a corollary, what is the simplest way to find out if the work is still under copyright? It seems that D. Appleton no longer exists as a publishing company; how do I find out who may now have control of their copyrights?

I am sure questions such as this have been asked here before, but since I have a very specific question I thought it would be easier to ask it than to try to sort through all the various threads here on copyright law.

IANA Copyright Lawyer, so I won’t even try to weigh in on the subject of various renewal dates, etc. BUT you should be aware that individual photographs in the book may possibly be copyrighted separately by the photographer.

Possible, but I suspect unlikely in this case; the photograph is credited to Frank Lutz, a scientist and co-worker of Chapman’s rather than a professional photographer.

It’s difficult to determine without researching the particular work.

It depends on whether the copyright for the work had been renewed. It was set to expire 28 years after the first copyright (1957, if my math is correct). If there was no renewal, then the work would be in the public domain – the copyright change in 1977 did not generally put expired works under copyright again.

If there was a renewal, then the copyright would have been extended in 1978 and be the author’s life plus 70 years.

In this particular case, I was able to search the copyright records online; the book is not listed. I don’t know if that’s 100% certain, but it is probably a sign the book and photos are PD. Further research may be required.

I believe the copyright website lets you search to see if the work had been renewed. If it’s not listed as renewed, then it’s probably public domain.

As a fillip, if the author died prior to 1935, the 70 years has passed and the work would be PD again.

This is exactly the type of question that is the bane of the publishing industry. It’s often very hard to figure out whether a work is under copyright and, if so, whom to ask for permission to use. There are numerous court cases in which people have to fight over arcane questions like this.

Chuck you’re half right. You are also half wrong. It’s true that if the C was not renewed after the first 28 year term, then the work is in the PD and has been since 1957. However if the work was renewed in '57 and, therefore, was protected at the enaction of the '76 Act, it would be extended as Colibri supposes. The author’s life has nothing to do with it; that rubric applies only to new works created after the '76 Act. For works originally protected under the '09 Act, the extensions are simple terms of years. Your fillip is incorrect.

Col, I express no opinion on whether the work was renewed or whether it remains in the PD. I also express no opinion on whether Chuck’s search was valid or if he’s interpreting the results thereof correctly – indeed, I have no fucking idea.


Thanks; I searched and it’s not listed. (Neither is any other work by Chapman.) Given the nature of the book - it was possibly reprinted in 1931, not since - I would say there is a good chance it might not have been renewed in 1957, when it was due. Chapman was a popular enough nature writer in the 1920s-1930s, but he died in 1945 and I doubt the book would have had much commercial potential by 1957.